March 01, 2009
Locals Vying for EPA Job

Jerry Cornfield reports on local Democrats vying for the post of Regional EPA Director. Notable names include Snohomish County Councilman Dave Somers, state Senator Phil Rockefeller, and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg.

A couple observations from a former political appointee at the regional level:

1) The EPA post is one of the few local, federal political appointments, along the Health & Human Services, that have real, substantive administrative authority. It's a position that can have some real policy impact. In contrast, jobs at Labor and Education are much more communications and public affairs oriented. Those can be important too depending on where certain issues fall on a President's agenda, but they are different.

2) Don't be surprised if this post takes some time to fill. The Obama administration is famously struggling to fill most political jobs in the Executive Branch in DC. Needless to say, jobs out in the regional offices tend to get lower priority anyway, even before one considers there's hardly anyone in the right offices in the respective Departments to process such appointments anyway.

3) The approval process for these posts is multi-layered. You have to have approval from the leading Member of Congress sharing the President's party that is consulted for such positions. In this case it's Patty Murray, at the time I was hired by the Department of Education under Bush 43 it was Jennifer Dunn. Usually, the Department seeking to hire you usually has a say, though in the end they ultimately provide merely a strong recommendation. Why? It's the White House's call who ultimately receives political appointments.

When I was hired, I was recommended to the Department by a former colleague who himself served for a short while as a political appointee in DC. The Department interviewed me, including an interview with an Assistant Secretary, and recommended I be hired. At which point I had to be approved by the White House (who checked with Jennifer's Dunn's office as part of their own approval process).

In my case, I had worked with the Regional Political Affairs Director at the White House when he was Executive Director of Bush-Cheney 2000 in Washington state and I was working on Slade Gorton's campaign. Thus, I was able to move through that process very quickly and the Department received approval to hire me in comparatively prompt fashion (just a couple of weeks). That doesn't always happen though, and sometimes candidates put forward for appointment by a Department are rejected outright.

So, consider the potential roadblocks:

1) Not being able to get approval or top consideration from the relevant Member of Congress to which the White House is listening regarding the appointment in question.

2) Not being able to secure appropriate recommendations and/or interviews from within the Department within one seeks to serve. One does after all have to find a way to get on their radar screen in the first place.

3) Not being able to secure an ultimate stamp of approval from the White House. That varies by Administration, but it can be a real obstacle in some circumstances. Example: during Bush 43's first team, you weren't getting anything if you had "John McCain" on your resume. It just wasn't done.

Of course, even if you can manage all the above, it's very easy to see circumstances where one or more of those requirements takes some time to be accomplished. Example: the near complete vacancy of political appointments in DC means there are very few people capable of interviewing potential appointees...even if they had the time in their over-worked days to do so. Also, it's not like the White House has anything on its plate these days either.

All to say, the jockeying for the current EPA opening is interesting. But it could still easily be months before that post, and others like it, are actually filled.

Posted by Eric Earling at March 01, 2009 08:41 PM | Email This
1. Mark Sidran is also being mentioned as a serious contender for the EPA post. Will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

Posted by: Anthony on March 1, 2009 08:58 PM
2. If it was Rockefeller it would at least get him out of the State Senate....
I shudder to think what mischief he could do as Regional EPA Director:
He was a prime sponsor @ request of the Gov, of the original draconian SB 5735: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions (as discussed on another thread, the 1st substitute by EWE Committee moderated some of the worst provisions of the original bill).

The ''best'' prospective candidate is probably going to be the least of several evils in this case; and this might be one of those instances where leaving the position vacant as long as possible is the best outcome (not to save money (that was shot down by Eric on prior thread too) ), but rather with the hope that without a political appointee in place, that the local professional Civil Service people still on the job will be more rational than any prospective candidate that the Obama Administration would appoint. sigh....

Posted by: Methow Ken on March 1, 2009 09:30 PM
3. I hope its not Somers, because I want to see him get smoked by Hope in the Snohomish County Council race.

Posted by: Steve on March 1, 2009 10:45 PM
4. Ah, the highest aspirations of a leftist mind, a federal level bureaucracy position. Those who can do, those who can't work in government.

Posted by: Jeff B. on March 2, 2009 08:10 AM
5. Can you believe Cornfield named as a replacement for Sommers, Fred Walser. When will Wasler go back into his hole and stay where he belongs. But I guess he has paid all of his fines, done his community service and his probation is up. That would make him an ideal democratic canidate for council.

Posted by: JIMBO on March 2, 2009 09:19 AM
6. Paul Roberts seems to have the most management experience. The others are political hacks.

Posted by: swatter on March 2, 2009 11:29 AM
7. Swatter @ 6: You must be confusing Paul Roberts with someone else. Paul Roberts is the epitome of "politcal hacks." He bleeds bureaucracy and has zero management experience.

Posted by: Mike on March 2, 2009 06:56 PM
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